by Alan Watkins
Watch out, things are about to change on the M25, and Medway drivers are likely to be affected.
The Highways Agency is planning to get rid of the toll booths at the Dartford Crossing, and this week finally got round to asking for our views.
Well firstly, it’s long overdue.
But secondly I agree entirely with the Dartford MP, Gareth Johnson, when he says the charges should also go. Brave words from a Conservative MP.
If I recall correctly, the tolls bring in something like £160 million a year from all the drivers who have to use the tunnels and the QEII Bridge.
They will remain, but you’ll have to make arrangements to pay them by phone or internet. Or face fines of up to £105.
The removal of the toll booths is not the only change coming to the M25.
Plans have been revealed to introduced driving on the hard shoulder to ease the congestion.
I recently had a chance to test the idea when driving up the A1 (M). I would slip on to the hard shoulder (as directed), drive for a while, then have to move back into the main carriageway after a few miles when a junction occurred.
Which is frustrating, annoying and potentially dangerous.
Frustrating? Certainly. You’ve gone on to the hard shoulder, others haven’t (just as they insist on cruising at 65mph in third lanes all over the country.
Any manoeuvre has potential for annoyance, especially if you are in lane one and someone suddenly pulls off the hard shoulder and into your path.
Some years ago I was embroiled in one of Britain’s worst accidents. Several vehicles had crashed with inevitable fatalities. It happened because a slower vehicle had been filtered by roadworks from an inside lane into the path of faster-moving traffic.
Highways engineers nowadays channel traffic into the slower lanes before they route traffic into the outer lanes – all as a result of that accident. Coming from the hard shoulder into the path of faster traffic has the same potential for disaster.
Before anyone suggests the CCTV cameras mean a blockage on the hard shoulder would be quickly acted upon, think again.
The other day a tragic winter accident on the A2 ended up in court. What the cameras recorded was shown in the court. The CCTV was focused on the accident site for seven minutes. Only in the last minute did the operator notice the accident in the outside lane, and start to focus in to see exactly what had happened.
He was in time to record how the driver of that crash was killed by another driver suddenly confronted with the obstruction in his lane.
Unfortunately for both drivers the man swerved into the central reservation to avoid the stationary cars. Other motorists had cut inside the earlier accident. The other driver was in front and neither could avoid the inevitable fatal accident that ensued.
The idea of saving money by using the hard shoulder to replace costly road widening schemes has merit. However, we don’t want more crashes because someone is forced to make a sudden decision.
Fortunately, I didn’t see a breakdown on the hard shoulder, or someone calling to report an incident. But they must happen, and carry the associated risks.